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Missed Opportunities: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness in America

Video Report: Harsh Reality of LGBTQ Homeless Youth

HRC Report: LGBTQ Youth at Higher Risk for Homelessness

Lambda Legal: Working With LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Info: LGBTQ Youth Issues

United Nations Report: LGBTQ Homeless Youth

National Coalition for the Homeless

Trevor Project: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness

LGBTQ Youth: More Likely to Be Homeless

Photos: Images of LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Homelessness Among LGBTQ Youth

Invisible People: Stats on Homeless Youth

True Colors Fund

No Place to Go: Getting Gay Teens Off the Street

 

Homeless LGBTQ Youth

 

In 2017, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago released a report on youth homelessness, "Missed Opportunities: National Estimates," which found that LGBTQ young adults had a 120 percent higher risk of reporting homelessness compared to youth who identified as heterosexual and cisgender. The report also found that one in 30 youth ages 13-17 experienced a form of homelessness over a 12-month period and one in 10 young adults ages 18-25 experienced a form of homelessness over a 12-month period.

 



These findings are consistent with other research that also shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented among the homeless. Estimates show that LGBTQ youth comprise up to 40 percent of the total unaccompanied homeless youth population, even though they make up five to 10 percent of the overall youth population.


LGBTQ youth aren’t the only population that disproportionately experience homelessness, according to the data. Other young adult populations experiencing disproportionate rates of homelessness include Black and African American youth, Hispanic non-white youth, unmarried parenting youth, youth with less than a high school diploma or GED certificate and youth reporting annual household income of less than $24,000.

The consequences of homelessness, particularly for LGBTQ youth, are far reaching and can last a lifetime. Homelessness is harmful to mental and physical health, and youth who are homeless are at an increased risk for sexual abuse and exploitation, chemical and alcohol dependency, social stigma and discrimination. These youth also experience lower levels of long-term educational attainment—placing them at an even greater disadvantage when they enter the job market. Growing up without the critical family and social safety nets so many young people rely on results in catastrophic consequences for economic stability, educational attainment and life expectancy.

Little support exists at the federal level to provide funding for programs that improve family relationships and reduce homelessness among LGBTQ youth. As a result, homeless youth, particularly LGBTQ youth, continue to face severe obstacles in their emotional and professional development.

 

Missed Opportunities: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness in America

Video Report: Harsh Reality of LGBTQ Homeless Youth

HRC Report: LGBTQ Youth at Higher Risk for Homelessness

Lambda Legal: Working With LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Info: LGBTQ Youth Issues

United Nations Report: LGBTQ Homeless Youth

National Coalition for the Homeless

Trevor Project: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness

LGBTQ Youth: More Likely to Be Homeless

Photos: Images of LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Homelessness Among LGBTQ Youth

Invisible People: Stats on Homeless Youth

True Colors Fund

No Place to Go: Getting Gay Teens Off the Street

 

 

Runaways and Rejection

 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth become homeless at rates that should alarm anyone working in the child welfare and shelter care systems. Many LGBTQ youth feel compelled to run away from their families or child welfare placements after their physical and emotional safety is jeopardized. Others are thrown out of their homes with nowhere to go but the streets. Still others have aged out of the child welfare system, unprepared to support themselves and without a permanent place to live. If the out-of-home systems of care are not safe and appropriate for LGBTQ youth, these young people attempt to forge a life on the streets rather than seek services and supports from these systems.

Family rejection on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity can have extreme effects on LGBTQ youth. In one study, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse, compared to peers from families that reported no levels of family rejection. As a result of family rejection, discrimination, criminalization and a host of other factors, LGBTQ youth represent as much as 40% of the homeless youth population. Of that population, studies indicate that as many as 60% are likely to attempt suicide.

 

[Source: Lambda Legal]
 

Missed Opportunities: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness in America

Video Report: Harsh Reality of LGBTQ Homeless Youth

HRC Report: LGBTQ Youth at Higher Risk for Homelessness

Lambda Legal: Working With LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Info: LGBTQ Youth Issues

United Nations Report: LGBTQ Homeless Youth

National Coalition for the Homeless

Trevor Project: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness

LGBTQ Youth: More Likely to Be Homeless

Photos: Images of LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Homelessness Among LGBTQ Youth

Invisible People: Stats on Homeless Youth

True Colors Fund

No Place to Go: Getting Gay Teens Off the Street


 

Prevalence of LGBTQ Homelessness

 

Although specific estimates of the percentage of United States homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ vary widely, estimates generally fall somewhere between 11 and 40 percent. Barriers to a more definitive percentage include the lack of a nationally representative study and the possibility of underreporting due to stigma associated with identifying as LGBTQ. The city from which the sample is drawn for each study may also account for a difference in estimates. For example, one 2004 study at the University of Nebraska Lincoln noted that while estimates based on samples from Los Angeles range from 25 to 40 percent, a 1999 study of small and medium Midwestern cities concluded that only 6% of homeless youth there identified as LGBTQ. According to the authors of this study, geographical location could affect these numbers. For example, due to the higher risk of coming out in rural, midwestern cities, youth may be more likely to either stay closeted there or to migrate to larger cities. Further, the authors continue, the differences might reflect differences in the ages of the samples in the different studies, or other differences in sampling methodology. The study concludes that when taken together, a general consensus can be found among the studies that 20% of homeless youth in magnet studies identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, with the number being slightly lower in nonmagnet cities.

 

In a 2012 study, legal expert Nusrat Ventimiglia noted that studies focusing on the number of transgender youth who experience homelessness are less prevalent, and therefore including youth who identify as transgender but not as gay, lesbian or bisexual could result in an estimate of 40 percent.

 

Researchers have posed a few core explanations for the overrepresentation of LGBTQ youth in the general United States homeless youth population. LGBTQ youth are more likely to be homeless because they run away or are evicted due to family conflict surrounding their sexual orientation or behavior. This explanation is supported by a 2011 survey study of a representative Massachusetts high school sample that found that LGBTQ youth were no more likely to be homeless and living with their parents than non-LGBTQ youth. Therefore, according to the study's authors, it may not be that LGBTQ youth are more likely to be part of a homeless family, but rather that their higher rate of homelessness is caused by being more likely to be evicted or run away. A 2008 study using in-person interviews found that among youth who experienced homelessness for more than six months, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more likely than heterosexual youth to report being verbally or physically harassed by family. In addition, LGBTQ youth are more likely to be homeless due to physical or sexual abuse experienced at home.

 

The Hetrick-Martin Institute showed that among homeless queer girls aged 13–15 in New York City, that 50% of them were homeless because they were fleeing familial corrective rape. In the background of both these explanations is the fact that, since the family conflicts associated with LGBTQ youth occur relatively late in a youth's development, LGBTQ youth are much less likely to be placed in foster care. Those who are placed in a foster home find an unwelcoming or hostile environment, and a study on the New York City Child Welfare System reported 78% of LGBTQ youth were kicked out, or ran away from their foster home as a result. A number of other factors that lead to increased risk of homelessness in adolescents disproportionately affect LGBTQ youth, such as experiencing conflict at school.

 

Missed Opportunities: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness in America

Video Report: Harsh Reality of LGBTQ Homeless Youth

HRC Report: LGBTQ Youth at Higher Risk for Homelessness

Lambda Legal: Working With LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Info: LGBTQ Youth Issues

United Nations Report: LGBTQ Homeless Youth

National Coalition for the Homeless

Trevor Project: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness

LGBTQ Youth: More Likely to Be Homeless

Photos: Images of LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Homelessness Among LGBTQ Youth

Invisible People: Stats on Homeless Youth

True Colors Fund

No Place to Go: Getting Gay Teens Off the Street

 

 

Research Findings on LGBTQ Homeless Youth

LGBTQ youth in America are highly diverse and experience homelessness differently. Nevertheless, several key findings about their experiences point the way toward policies, systems, and services that LGBTQ youth need:

--LGBTQ youth had over twice the rate of early death among youth experiencing homelessness.

--LGBTQ youth are at more than double the risk of homelessness compared to non-LGBTQ peers.

--Youth who identified as both LGBTQ and black or multiracial had some of the highest rates of homelessness.

--Among youth experiencing homelessness, LGBTQ young people reported higher rates of trauma and adversity.

--Transgender youth often face unique and more severe types of discrimination and trauma

The research also showed that most LGBTQ youth became homeless not in the immediate aftermath of “coming out” but in large part as the result of family instability and frayed relationships over time. Lastly, young people’s sense of whether service agencies were safe and affirming spaces for LGBTQ youth often informed their decisions about whether to engage with them.

These findings signal opportunities for preventing homelessness and underscore the importance of services that help young people re-establish positive and reliable connections in their lives.

 

LGBTQ youth are at high risk for homelessness compared to other groups...

LGBTQ youth have an especially high risk for homelessness. According to the national survey,3 young adults, ages 18 to 25, who identified as LGBTQ experienced homelessness within the last 12 months at over twice the rate of their heterosexual peers who identified as their birth gender (“cisgender”). Young people who identified as LGBTQ made up about 20% of those young adults who reported homelessness. In larger, urban communities, the proportions of youth experiencing homelessness who identified as LGBTQ were higher than for smaller, more rural communities, and reached up to 40% of homeless youth in one county’s youth count.

Given that many young people may be reluctant to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity in a survey, these statistics should be viewed as conservative estimates, especially in households and communities where there is less acceptance of LGBTQ people.

 

LGBTQ youth experience high levels of adversity, including early death...

Youth experiencing homelessness generally have much higher rates of early death than their stably housed peers. Based on analysis of homelessness management information system (HMIS) data across 16 communities, we found that LGBTQ youth had over twice the rate of early death among youth experiencing homelessness.

Similarly, while virtually all youth facing homelessness experience adversity, LGBTQ youth describe particularly pervasive exposure to trauma both before and during their periods of homelessness. In the in-depth interviews, individuals who identified as LGBTQ reported more physical harm from others versus their non-LGBTQ peers (62% vs. 47%) and more harm to themselves (25% vs. 15%). Identifying as LGBTQ was associated with much higher rates of experiencing discrimination or stigma within the family (64% vs. 37%) and outside of the family (60% vs. 37%). LGBTQ young people were also more likely to report exchanging sex for basic needs (27% vs. 9%) and having been forced to have sex (38% vs. 15%).

These findings illustrate why it is critical that new efforts emerge to integrate safe spaces, rapid and sustained exits from homelessness, positive adult connections, and culturally attuned mental and physical health supports into service plans for LGBTQ young people.

 

Homelessness stems from multiple factors beyond “coming out” among LGBTQ youth...

Common notions of LGBTQ youth being evicted by families into homelessness after “coming out” are overly simplistic and obscure important opportunities for family-based intervention to prevent youth homelessness.

According to our in-depth interviews, homelessness was rarely an “event” in which young people immediately shifted abruptly from stable housing to homelessness. While coming out to parents and identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender mattered, these youth typically described a gradual escalation of the parent-child conflict over time, or a growing sense of rejection in the home, rather than an immediate reaction to the disclosure that caused homelessness. The positive implication is that there is often more time and opportunity than commonly assumed to intervene with LGBTQ youth and their families to prevent difficult situations from devolving into homelessness.

Typically, the young person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is only one factor involved in household tensions. Most families also faced broader issues of instability, including poverty, loss, violence, addiction, mental health problems, or housing troubles. These dynamics preceded, or coincided with, the youth’s identity or coming out process.

Additionally, discrimination that youth faced within their families often came from a parent’s significant other or a sibling. As Isabel’s story illustrates, the rejection youth experience in their families can differ from one family member to another and can be shaped by differences in the stigma attached to gender versus sexual identity. The fact that homelessness was often the product of escalated tension over time for many LGBTQ young people suggests that there is an opportunity to support young people and their families at earlier stages of difficulty. The findings also suggest that intervening around other stressors that families face (like poverty, single parenthood, parental addiction, mental health) could have direct positive implications for addressing this subpopulation’s homelessness.

Families are sources of both hardship and strength. While family relations can be a source of rejection for LGBTQ young people, they often have allies within the same household or extended family network who are and can be important resources for programs and systems to engage in young people’s service plans. Isabel, for example, maintained a strong relationship with her grandmother even as her parents abused and disowned her. Family engagement can be tremendously powerful for young people in kindling or rekindling positive connections to promote healing individually and at the family level.

For LGBTQ youth, finding positive connections outside of the biological family is also especially important. One young person, Joe, spoke of the importance of connections at his local agency for LGBTQ youth where he felt safe and affirmed, “I gained family and friends there. I’d rather see them more than my friends.” Given this level of comfort, Joe fully engaged with and trusted this provider. He now benefits from their services, “They gave me resources and staff to talk to. They were real kind in really helping me out. And they still help me out to this day.” Joe’s experience is consistent with previous evidence on the benefits of LGBTQ youth having social supports from peers and nonfamily adults—often who themselves identified as LGBTQ. In a world of negative, conflicting, or inaccurate messages about being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, these LGBTQ-accepting connections can be critical.

 

 

Safe, affirming responses and services are important for engaging LGBTQ youth...

Offering services is not enough for young people to access them. Young people judge an agency’s reputation before engaging. Even young people in crisis have options and personal agency to choose among them. Our research showed that young people’s identity as LGBTQ was not the only lens through which they made decisions about engaging services, but it was often an important one.

As the findings highlight, most LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness have withstood discrimination, bullying, exploitation, and/or violence in their grueling journeys into and through homelessness. Against these life backdrops, LGBTQ youth are often hesitant to take added risks by engaging services that are not demonstrably safe and affirming for young people like them. Youth most often learned about these risks from their own experiences as well as from other youth who had direct experience with a particular service system or provider agency. They often calculated their decision to engage with an agency against the risks of staying on the streets or getting by without formal supports. Consider Jess’s experience as a transgender young woman navigating services. “Having appropriate mental health care is so important,” she believed, but she also described barriers to treatment.

Young people want to be accepted and seen not simply for their sexual or gender identity, but as holistic and valuable human beings with multidimensional identities and stories of both struggle and resilience. As one youth, Dan, noted, the resources would be better “if the community was a lot more accepting (not just accepting me as LGBTQ) but accepting me as a person who is struggling with, for instance, drug issues or just abusive parents or homelessness.” Young people in the study needed to feel nurtured and affirmed for their LGBTQ identities, but this was not the whole of how they understood themselves or the sole extent of their needs for support or resources. Overall, LGBTQ youth preferred engaging in services that recognized and reinforced their strengths and personal agency.

 

[Source: Chapin Hall, University of Chicago, "Missed Opportunities: National Estimates," November 2017]
 

Missed Opportunities: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness in America

Video Report: Harsh Reality of LGBTQ Homeless Youth

HRC Report: LGBTQ Youth at Higher Risk for Homelessness

Lambda Legal: Working With LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Info: LGBTQ Youth Issues

National Coalition for the Homeless

Trevor Project: LGBTQ Youth Homelessness

LGBTQ Youth: More Likely to Be Homeless

Photos: Images of LGBTQ Homeless Youth

Homelessness Among LGBTQ Youth

Invisible People: Stats on Homeless Youth

True Colors Fund

No Place to Go: Getting Gay Teens Off the Street


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